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The Sew Frosting Challenge: Self-Drafted Satin Dress

This is a special dress.

When I saw the floral satin for sale on the Club Tissus website, I knew I had to have it. I generally hate polyester, and I’ve never worked with satin. I was so in love with the print, though, that I ordered almost 5 yards of it and decided that I would make something incredibly special for the Sew Frosting Challenge happening on Instagram. I went on about the challenge and its merits in my vintage coat post a few weeks back, but I didn’t make that coat specifically for the challenge, and I wanted to take the challenge as an opportunity to go out of my comfort zone and make something I wouldn’t normally make.

I knew exactly what dress I wanted to make from it – the Cassie dress from Wear Lemonade. Wear Lemonade makes beautiful sewing patterns that I am really hoping to try some day, and they also make some beautiful ready-to-wear garments. I was kind of sad that the Cassie dress didn’t have a pattern, and the ready-made dress is very much out of my budget. So I guess I had no choice but to make it myself!

I dug out the sloper that I very meticulously made in fourth-year university, when I drafted and embroidered a dress from scratch for my thesis. I don’t know why I haven’t used my sloper since then – it’s a basic block that I perfectly tailored to fit me! It was so easy to use it to make a bodice that would fit me exactly how I wanted. All I had to do was follow the instructions in my copy of Patternmaking for Fashion Design, and it was done! I had put aside a whole day for it and it took me about half an hour. I made a blouson bodice, which basically just has some extra ease in the waist that gets gathered into a waistband. I also made a boat-neckline, and drafted bishop sleeves and a cuff.

To support the very drapey (and static-y) poly satin, I underlined the bodice pieces with a lightweight cotton/silk fabric I had in my collection of lining fabrics. I left the rest of the dress unlined because I didn’t want it to feel weighed down.

The skirt was a very exciting and new process that I tried – professional pleating! There is so little information about profession pleating out there! I consider myself a research fiend, and I spent a few days figuring out how to prepare my fabric for pleating. I knew the fabric had to be polyester, and thanks to a new friend of mine from the Toronto sewing community, I found a place nearby called Sterling Button that has an in-house pleating service. I never would have found it if not for the Toronto Sewcialists Facebook group – Sterling Button doesn’t have a website and nowhere online does it say they do pleating!

From what I found, hemming pleated fabric is tricky. If you turn up already-pleated fabric, the pleats head in the opposite direction and don’t fold up neatly. If you machine-hem the fabric before pleating, you might shift the grain of the fabric and the pleats will come out wonky. I didn’t know what I should do.

Then I turned to my trusty Kindle copy of Claire Shaeffer’s Fabric Sewing Guide. That book is like the bible of how to sew with every fabric, and in the “special occasion fabric” section, she tells you that hemming should be done before having your fabric professionally pleated. Thank goodness for Claire Shaeffer!

Still, I didn’t want to serge the bottom and throw off the grain, so I hemmed the selvedge edge which I knew wouldn’t need finishing, and I stitched the whole thing by hand. I threw in 5 extra inches of width to the rectangle, just in case. I must’ve done my calculations wrong, though, because 2 days and $25 later, the pleated fabric came back about 3 inches too narrow (albeit beautifully pleated)!

I panicked for a few minutes, and then I decided to slightly ease each pleat apart until the width of the skirt matched my waistband. It worked! I was so pleased. I wasn’t able to match up the pleat folds by the zipper, but it was more important to me that the skirt fit around my body.

After stitching the skirt to the bodice waistband, I basted a grosgrain ribbon into the waistband for added support (I don’t want the waistband to go slouchy with time). I enclosed it with a waistband facing so the inside looks nice and neat.

To insert the zipper, I used pick stitches sewn by hand, since I had carefully matched the floral pattern on the back pieces and I didn’t want to mess it up by sewing it on the machine.

Really, the whole thing wasn’t too tricky a process, but with all the outsourcing and hand-stitching, it took me more than a week to complete this dress. I really enjoyed the creative process of drafting and took a lot of pleasure in all the hand-stitched touches. I also cannot get over the sleeve cuffs and the beautiful pearly shank buttons that Jenny at Sterling Button helped me choose. They just look so elegant!

I don’t know when I’ll get to wear this very special dress – I’m already waiting for the perfect special occasion to wear it! Still, the #sewfrosting challenge isn’t about practicality – it’s about making something extravagant just for the sake of it. I think this dress fits the bill.

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